Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The wall and the window - Mystery in space

Reading studies on crime and place I was recently struck by a mystery among environmental criminology researchers who study CPTED, particularly territoriality (the wall) and natural surveillance (the window).

It brought to mind other concept errors in crime and place research, specifically crime generators, permeability, cul de sacs, and the Achilles Heel within routine activity theory. This time the mystery cycles around guardianship.

Here’s the storyline…

Researchers regale the power of natural surveillance to enhance guardianship. Guardianship presumes to increase the risk that offenders will be seen and caught. Natural surveillance has appeal because you can observe whether a space has lighting, sightlines and nearby windows. Because surveillance presumably will produce more preventive action by residents (or reluctance by offenders to show up), you can then measure what happens.


Natural surveillance assumes that people who see something out of place will act, thereby providing guardianship. Thus it is “real”. It's an assumption borne out nicely in low-crime, upper income areas but not so much in lower-income, high crime areas where residents are afraid to step outdoors and when they do their presence doesn’t deter anything.

Fences, windows and flowers creating territorial control on a San Diego public walkway 
On the other hand researchers question the power of territoriality to enhance guardianship, mainly because they say territoriality lacks "definitional rigor" and it isn’t “real”. Floral decorations or landscaping…is that it? Maybe it’s access control, walls and gates? Even worse, territoriality varies from place to place. Horrors!

They suggest natural surveillance is preferable to territoriality because it seems more measurable. That’s how they solve the mystery of territoriality. They ignore or downplay it, label it with   definitional problems and claim it isn't "real".


Historian Howard Zinn warns us about such storylines: “Realism is seductive because once you have accepted the reasonable notion that you should base your actions on reality, you are too often led to accept without much questioning someone else’s version of what that reality is.”

Consider this: If territoriality isn’t real, then how is guardianship any better? And why shouldn’t territoriality vary from place to place?“The real world,” says Zinn, “is infinitely complex and constantly changing.”

Perhaps social science research methods are too simplistic to tell us anything complex? Perhaps it is guardianship that has a definitional problem, especially given territoriality’s much longer provenance.

What provenance? Consider Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, Robert Ardry’s The Territorial Imperative, Edward Hall’s The Hidden Dimension, Oscar Newman's Defensible Space, and Alice Coleman's Utopia on Trial. And all that territorial work still continues today such as Kevin Leydon’s study on walkability and social capital.


CPTED practitioners seldom complain about such things because context always comes first.

For example in SafeGrowth practitioners and residents use a Risk Assessment Matrix for surveys, safety audits, site visits, and asset maps. Together they create a profile of the neighborhood and what residents feel about it. Only then do they determine to what extent designs enhance territoriality.

Overcoming "definitional rigor"?

Simple: Ask the residents and work with them to discover what they feel enhances their territorial control, a method known as action research and action learning. Mystery solved.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

...this is a bed

Temporary homeless shelter on city bench - photo Spring Advertising

My blog on London's design out crime spikes to deter homeless haunted my thoughts until I read a recent story from Vancouver.

RainCity Housing is one of those hard-working non-profits we don't hear enough about. They provide social housing, help those with mental illness and addictions and work to get the homeless into housing. Spring Advertising is a creative advertising firm who worked with RainCity to design an innovative bench cover that morphs into a temporary shelter at night.

It's a far cry from homeless spikes. Of course an ad stunt is obviously no solution to homelessness. Then again, neither are the spikes that cruelly dot London's landscape.

We might not have the answer to the problem of homelessness but as the RainCity/Spring collaboration suggests, we can still be humane.

In the day it's a bench... the night it transforms into a bench shelter.
- photos by Spring Advertising

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Graff war in the streets of Melbourne

My architect friend Frank Stoks sent me a news clip of an emerging graff war in Melbourne.  Frank is a well-known CPTED expert in New Zealand. Back in the 1980s questions from his PhD thesis comprised the basis for the Toronto's Women's Safety Audit - now the United Nations Safety Audit.

Melbourne Australia is a remarkable city of culture and walkability. Our SafeGrowth teams continue their exceptional work in 4 neighborhoods, recently highlighted at a recent Australian criminology conference. Melbourne is also known for its vast array of street art and graffiti, particularly in laneways, much of it under city supervision mentioned in an earlier blog, Eyes Wide Open, Magnificent Melbourne.

Now, according to this news clip, a graff war has broken out between the street artists commissioned by the city to create the murals and some culture jamming taggers who are not. Says one street artist: "The council is commissioning the work to stop tagging and not including the guys who have come from the graffiti background, so they're alienating the scene."

Check it out here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

There are no spectators

"Innovations involve imaginative leaps capable of carrying us beyond existing practice." - David Morley (1980)
Today I have been reflecting on an old friend.

So many prevention, policing and planning programs today seem like throwaway ideas in a sea of mediocrity. Few last long and even fewer work. Yet everyone has a shtick. Sadly most are just new gizmos and old ideas rehashed. As they say in Canada they are all stick and no puck.

At a time when so many neighborhoods face the social turbulence that is crime and violence, where is the original thinking? Where is the creativity and wisdom?

Long ago, when I began my graduate studies in planning, human ecology and environmental criminology, I met someone who taught and lived that kind of creativity. His wisdom changed my life. He is the friend I mentioned above and last week he died after a long bout with cancer.


Professor David Morley was my supervisor at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto. He was the smartest scholar I have known (I have known some greats).

Professor David Morley
Never shy of conceptual rigor, David was one of those who taught that an ounce of action is worth a ton of theories. His field was action research and action learning which included advanced methods of group collaboration and community participation, the very lifeblood of creativity. Thanks to David those methods are now embedded in SafeGrowth planning theory.

He wrote profusely but for me his two best works were Making Cities Work: The Dynamics of Innovation (1980) and Planning in Turbulence (1986).


Both books are full of ideas on how to activate community groups and how to engage residents to change their own neighborhoods.  There are no techno-fixes here - no CCTV, no anti-homeless spikes, and no burglary foggers. There is just hard work in community development. Today, thirty years after David co-wrote those books, we need those methods, and David's wisdom, more than ever.

At a time when I had just decided to leave a career as a street cop, and I might have gone in many different directions to places of uncertain destination, David Morley gently and passionately taught me to think big, think important and, while riding the turbulent currents that carry us in life, never forget there are no spectators. Goodbye David and thank you for your gifts, guidance, and friendship.

"...perhaps only under the tension of threatening and uncertain environments are collective innovations likely." - David Morley, (1986)